A British Indian soldier, policeman or laborer photographed numerous times, stands out – the attire, the turbans, the stalwart frame – exotic subject captured by a western lens evokes endless admiration for his finery. Yet, sadly after the first glance, the sepia photograph is forgotten. British troops, policemen and indentured laborers stationed in the Orient or Africa and other far flung places serving the empire, would have grappled with several issues – language, adaptation, survival, climate and more. But, at the time, no one cared to delve deeper –  one click and that was enough. You see such men in rare albums capturing the glory of the empire, always in the background -images of 1900 China Boxer Rebellion come to mind, saluting the ‘Sahib’, rescuing the besieged foreigners. Who were these men? Did they have families? What were their living and employment conditions like? What happened to them?

Even to this date, it  is dismaying to note  that British Indian empire sojourners have found little fame in history. Colonial era history amnesia (because of its discriminating implications and unappealing revelations) as an excuse trivialize the sacrifices only underline the absent voices that complete the period history. Genealogy may not be the top most priority for South Asians but for research to occur collecting scattered vital records is essential.

It can be done  – academic folks may argue that there is plenty of collated data in this regard but the audience for such kind of work is limited and definitely not accessible to the interested ‘general’ public. Conserving heritage must be all inclusive – a special attempt must be made, bypassing academic ‘speak’ to reach to an audience that is perceptive, interested in voicing the forgotten narratives and can and would like to participate. The stories remain as heirlooms with the sojourners’ families.  Oral and written histories will help preserve memory, beyond just the sepia stained images. A public project and a collaborative initiative can help reclaim lost stories.

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